How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure The RoadScholarz RV Guide

The RoadScholarz RV Guide
How to Plan an
Amazing, Kid-Friendly
RV Adventure
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
Why Go RVing?
Is an RV Trip Right for Your Family?
Map the Perfect Route
The Weather Factor
How Long Should Your Trip Last?
How to Choose an RV
How to Travel: Alone, with a Friend—or in a Caravan
Friends and Family Along the Way
Keep the Home Fires Burning
What to Bring and How to Pack It
School Supplies
Tools and Equipment
How to Pack the RV
Food and Food Storage
More Cooking Tips
Life on the Road
Taking Pictures
Hooking Up: The Ins (and Outs) of Your Power, Water and Sewer Lines
Mileage and Driving
Estimating Time and Distance
Can You Hear Me Now? Staying in Touch 27
Trip Costs
Timeline: How and When to Get Ready
©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
Dear reader—
Congratulations—you’ve got a road trip on your mind! Thank you for reading my
eBook—it’s chock-full of information to help you plan your own RV adventure. You can
read this how-to guide from e-cover to e-cover, or you can skip around to the parts that
are most relevant to your needs. It includes loads of links to online sources as well as a
countdown timeline and a wide range of sources to steer you in the right direction. Feel
free to e-mail me with any questions and to let me know how your adventure goes.
Travel safe and happy RVing!
Gretchen Breuner
The RoadScholarz
[email protected]
The RoadScholarz at the Alamo.
(From the left: Sammy, Gretchen, Jackson and Lilly)
©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
The old cliché couldn’t be more right: You are about to embark on the trip of a
lifetime. No matter how many miles and time zones your trip covers, it will be unique,
memorable, and fun. You’ll have breakdowns and breakthroughs and along the way
create memories that will last a lifetime.
I took our children on a three-month RV trip
in the fall of 2008. The kids were almost 11, just
9, and 5½ years old, and going into fifth grade,
fourth grade, and kindergarten, respectively.
We left San Diego on September 2, 2008, and by
the time we returned home on November 30,
we had put 10,042 miles on the odometer and
visited 19 different states. Since I had pulled my
kids out of their public elementary school, I took
on the responsibility of becoming their teacher,
homeschooling them while we traveled. A good
friend of mine coined the phrase “The RoadScholarz,” and the name stuck. I was the
ringleader: Mom, driver, planner, teacher, tour guide, cook, cleaner, maintenance
person, and septic tank emptier. It was an incredible, life-changing adventure—so much
so that the trip has lived on in our lives. I wrote this book in the hopes of helping and
inspiring other families to create an RV adventure of their own. If you’re contemplating
making the country your classroom, as it was ours, read on and let the journey begin.
Why Go RVing?
One aspect of an extended RV trip that appealed to me was finding out what it would
be like, especially for the kids, to live with less stuff—to focus less on things and more
on experience. I wanted to spend time with my kids and not be held captive by the
crazy, busy schedule to which our life was so often tethered.
Another desire my husband Mike and I shared
was to not just show the United States to our
children but give them the opportunity to live
our country’s history. Learning from a book is
wonderful, but seeing history brought to life is
Left: Wounded Knee. Above: Mt. Rushmore
I wanted a simpler existence, and driving an RV
is certainly simple. You have your favorite pillow
and blanket, your best books and games, a camera,
and the open road; freedom is waiting for you to
©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
discover and explore it. Since we came home, not a day goes by that I don’t think about
our trip, and someday I know we’ll take another one like it.
Is an RV Trip Right for Your Family?
RVing is not for everyone, and it may not be right for everyone in your family for
reasons of age, abilities, and interests. Toddlers and little kids require much more
patience and a significantly slower pace than older children. If you’ve got kids in their
preteens and beyond, it may be harder to take them away from their increasingly
independent lives. I felt that my kids and I were in the perfect window when we
traveled. They were old enough to fully experience our adventure, but not so old that
they couldn’t leave their friends and lives behind.
If you’re planning a longer trip and have older kids—middle and high schoolers, for
example—you might consider caravanning with another family that has kids of similar
ages. The preteens and teenagers can hang out with their friends, and during stops they
can practice the independence and self-reliance they crave, while parents can still keep
an eye on them from afar. Caravanning also makes it possible to let the older kids ride
in one vehicle, with the younger kids in the other for all (or part) of the trip.
Since different kids have different interests, sit down with them and listen to their
ideas. Encourage them to participate in planning. When children take ownership
of something, they’re far more likely to embrace it. Planning special activities to fit
particular interests will give each kid his or her own pleasure to look forward to. My
girls love horses, so I found places to ride ahead of time and put them on our itinerary.
My son loves baseball, so a trip to Wrigley Field made the list. Offer special points of
interest for each child along the way, and they’ll be more likely to enjoy most of the stops.
If you’re really unsure whether an RV trip is right for your family, take a trial run,
and if you’re considering caravanning, bring your friends too! Rent—or borrow—an RV
and spend a long weekend (at least two nights) camping close to home to get a feel for
RV life and how it will work for your gang. It never hurts to test the waters.
Map the Perfect Route
After you’ve made the decision to go, the next question is, where are you going? There
are many ways to design an optimal RV route. The determining factor is always how
much time you have for your trip. Here are a few ideas to get you going:
• W
ill your trip reflect a personal passion? Are you interested in visiting famous
ballparks, for example, or exploring Civil War sites?
• Do you want to focus on specific national parks?
• Can’t wait to finally spend some time with far-flung friends and relatives?
©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
• Want to follow a historical route, such as Lewis and Clark’s?
• W
ant to get to know a certain region better, like the Great Lakes or the American
• D
oes a certain style of music light you up? Plan a route that immerses you in it. If you
love bluegrass, for example, head for the highways and byways of the Appalachian
and Ozark Mountains. If you’re a zydeco fan, you’ll want to be in Louisiana, the heart
of Creole country. Keep in mind that if you travel during the summer, you and your
kids will find music festivals to enjoy everywhere.
• D
o you just want to head due east (or west, north, or south) and see what adventures
Whatever your route, keep your own and your kids’ interests in mind so you have
willing and happy fellow travelers.
The Weather Factor
Do some research on what the weather is likely to be when you plan to travel. Pay
attention to seasons, topography, altitude, and road conditions, all of which may significantly affect your trip. Depending on your point of departure, your route should
follow the best weather. It sounds obvious, I know, but it’s crucial. Since we started
on the West Coast in the fall, we headed north first to stay ahead of snowstorms, and
ended our trip crossing from the southeast through the southwest where the oncoming
winter was less severe.
©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
During the planning phase, I asked grandparents, friends, and relatives for ideas on
great places to see. I pored over maps of the United States. I researched all the must-sees
and a number of other informative websites) and noted them on a large U.S. map. As I
researched, I printed any pertinent information I might need and stashed it in a threering binder labeled by state. For example, if I booked a reservation at a certain lodge, I
filed a hard copy of that confirmation in my binder, which eventually became my trip
bible (see the “Packing” section for more about packing documents).
There are countless books with ideas on where to stop and what to see—start
perusing bookstores to see what appeals to you. I browsed many, borrowed some, and
bought a small selection, each with a different focus, including National Parks with
Kids, American Icons, and Things to See Before You’re 12. I read them on the trip too, and
made detours when possible. There were times
when one of the kids wanted to see a certain place
but the other two did not. We’d take a vote and
most of the time would come to an agreement.
My son Jackson and I both regret we didn’t take a
detour out to see the Badlands of South Dakota—
but we all realized we couldn’t see everything we
wanted to. Again, the key thing is to be flexible
within the amount of available time.
The Louisville Slugger Museum—a must for baseball fans.
If you’re visiting one of the almost 400 areas
in the national park system (, it
is imperative that you make your reservation in
advance, especially if you’re traveling during the
summer. Make reservations as early as possible to
get the best choice of campground. The National
Park Service strongly recommends that you do
this at least six months in advance if you are
traveling during the summer. I was able to get
reservations easily since we traveled during the
How Long Should Your Trip Last?
Your financial situation and work commitments are the two factors that will likely
dictate how long you can stay out on the road. In our case, I knew I had to go without
Mike. I knew I wanted to be gone long enough to fully embrace the RV experience,
but still be home by Christmas. Since we left in early September, weather was a huge
©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
consideration. My overall plan
was to keep a good three steps
ahead of winter. Who wants to
drive an RV in the snow??
If you want to start right where
you live, rent an RV nearby and
hit the road. Or skip the parts
you don’t want to see and fly to
your starting destination. Rent
an RV there, take your trip, and
then fly home. I would certainly
recommend a longer trip if your
time and budget permit it.
Will your route follow the seasons?
We have a Danish friend
who bought a used RV in California (while still in Denmark), flew his family to San
Francisco, and drove all over the western United States before selling the RV again and
flying home. Another friend and her husband took their three elementary-age children
on a five-week trip this past summer. They flew from their home in Connecticut to
Denver, picked up a rental RV, drove all around the Western states, and finished their
trip in San Diego. If you choose to fly to your starting point, you’ll be limited to what
you can take on the plane, so you’ll need a fully equipped rental that includes bedding,
dishes, utensils, pots and pans, and so on. Rent some bikes locally, stock up at a grocery
store, and you’re ready to roll.
I asked several other RVers how long their trips were. Some folks were out for a week,
others for months. Retirees often hit the road indefinitely. Some other families I met
were two-parent families, and almost all were homeschooling their kids. The best advice
I received—and keep giving because it was so true—is the need to be flexible with your
timing. Whether you’re out for a week, a month, or six months, pad your schedule
with frequent unscheduled days to allow for longer visits at a favorite place, a delay for
repairs, or any number of distractions and detours that life might serve up.
How to Choose an RV
How do you determine what kind of RV you need? Should you rent or buy, used or
new? What do you look for in a vehicle? These are all important questions. Spend
time on the many RV sites (,,,
etc.). They are treasure troves of information on vehicle options, routes, sites to see, and
so on. The RV community was very friendly to me and eager to offer tips or weigh in
on a particular vehicle’s pros and cons. Google RV blogs (like this one), and take full
advantage of the wealth of experience available.
©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
The decision to rent or buy an RV will depend on your family’s needs and budget.
Since we were going for a longer trip, we decided to buy a used rig and avoid the extra
fees we’d incur if we went over an allotted number of miles. I personally wanted to
extend our trip if we wished. Most companies offer the first 100 miles per day free on
a rental. After that, however, you’ll get dinged per mile, and that adds up very quickly.
You’ll also pay a per-night charge. Some RV rental companies to check out are El Monte
RV ( and Cruise America ( If you’re
renting an RV and planning to travel one-way only, be aware that most companies
charge a hefty drop-off fee for a one-way rental.
Another reason I decided to buy a used RV was so I could practice driving it. Also,
I could customize it to my heart’s content, without any worry about keeping the rig in
tip-top rental condition. Kids are messy, and buying was less stressful for me. The plan
was to sell the RV on our return. That hasn’t happened yet—we keep taking trips in it—
but someday we will. The investment has paid for itself in many ways.
There is a downside to RV ownership, however, and it’s significant: You’re on your
own if you break down; you’ll pay insurance costs and need to find a place to park or
store your vehicle. Rental agencies will replace or repair your unit, getting you back
on the road ASAP. Be mentally prepared for some kind of mechanical failure on your
trip—and budget accordingly. Plan on needing repairs, whether
tips & tricks
you’re in your own RV or in a rental RV, especially if you’re out
Assume the average
for an extended period of time. I have not met a single RV traveler
night in an RV rental will
whose vehicle didn’t experience some kind of breakdown. When
be around $200 (more
you think about it, you’re taking your home on wheels. What
for larger vehicles)
homeowner doesn’t need to do upkeep on the house? Something
including insurance and
always needs attention: I lost my fuel pump the second day out.
mileage. If your trip will
My roof leaked in a thunderstorm in Bozeman, Montana; my sink
be on the longer side,
leaked; and the fridge went on the blink every few weeks. And we
buying a used vehicle
were lucky.
might make more
financial sense.
Before leaving town, have your rig inspected by a trustworthy
mechanic. If you rent, make sure the vehicle has passed its safety
and mechanical inspection (ask to see the paperwork). Have the tires checked (highway
blowouts are extremely dangerous), as well as the engine battery and the generator.
Once we made the decision to buy the RV, I assumed that my AAA membership
covered us ( Make sure you have this type of coverage before you go.
You think I’m joking? Before we left, people would ask, “You’ve got AAA, right?” “Of
course I do,” I replied, thinking, “I’m not an idiot, you know.” Famous last words: I had
AAA for the car, not the RV. I didn’t know the difference until we broke down on day
two, and I called for a tow truck. “Well, ma’am,” the dispatcher said, “your coverage
©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
is for an automobile, not an RV.” Thank goodness, you can change your plan over the
phone. (A side note: Make sure your credit card has plenty of room on it!) If you have
mechanical failures, you can usually call mobile RV services once you’re in camp (or
RV AAA). Twice I had a local RV service repair company meet me at camp. It was very
helpful and got us back on the road quickly.
After the kids got tired of playing in the “new” RV, we took it for a trial run, camping
for a weekend to learn the ins and outs of RV life. We also took our time customizing it
and experimenting with the best packing methods. Of course, you could take a trial run
in a rental, and pay for extra days to pack, too.
When I looked at purchasing a used RV, my goal was to find a 1996 or newer model
with fewer than 100,000 miles on it. The 1996 benchmark was purely for my comfort
level. Older models did not instill confidence that they’d actually hold up on my 10,000mile trip. I learned that if an RV has low miles but isn’t used often, problems can arise.
Parts that just sit around unused can be just as much of a liability as a rig with lots
of miles and heavy use. Be sure to check the number of hours on the generator—less
than 100 hours is ideal. I ended up finding a 1996 model with fewer than 50,000 miles
on it, owned by a mechanic. Perfect! The
bottom line is, whether you rent or buy, the
decision is what’s best for your plans, your
budget, and your family.
If you aren’t a planner, have no idea
how to map out a route, or just need (or
want) someone else to take over, there are
folks who will plan your RV trip for you.
Tracks and Trails (
will design a trip to your liking, make
suggestions of where to go and what to
see, and create a very easy and enjoyable
adventure for your family. My girlfriend used them and said they did a wonderful job
planning her trip—it was a great resource.
How to Travel: Alone, with a Friend—or in a Caravan
I had great fun sharing our trip at a dinner party with some girlfriends shortly after our
return. We had a lively conversation about a trip that sounded even more fun than my
own: Two of my girlfriends hatched a plan to join forces and go with their combined
six kids. Laura was reluctant to go alone. A solo RV trip sounded too scary. Lynn, on
the other hand, was undaunted. They decided that they would make a great team.
Laura was more than happy to always be the copilot and take charge of the kids, if Lynn
10 ©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
handled the driving. I guess they
had to draw straws for dumping the
septic tank.
Another friend of mine (and
her husband and kids) caravanned
with another family. Again, this
is a great idea. The kids have
playmates, the adults have grownup interaction, everyone can share
meals and cooking—and each
family can retreat to its own space
as well as choose different sites
to see. On our trip, we met many
caravanning families on the road. It
can offer the best of both worlds—
Kentucky’s famous Churchill Downs
privacy and company, whenever
you want either. Should you decide to travel with a friend or another family, sit down
first for some honest conversations to assess goals and compatibility:
• Are you early risers or night owls? Are your kids on similar schedules with theirs?
• D
o you need to be in charge, or can you let others take the lead? Are your skills and
preferences complimentary?
• Do you prefer to stick with a plan or play it by ear?
• How old are your kids? How old are the kids who might be joining you?
• Do the kids get along? Do they cooperate or compete with each other?
• What kind of food do you each eat and cook? Do you plan meals, wing it, or eat out?
• D
o you and your kids tend more toward eating junk food or nutritious food? Are
there allergies or strong preferences to consider? Do your kids drink water or soft
drinks? Are differences in all of this OK?
• A
re the kids on similar plans regarding TV, music, and video games? If not, can you
agree on a compromise that works for everyone?
• Are the parents OK with other adults managing (and disciplining) their kids?
• What kind of sightseeing does each family want to do?
• I f you’re homeschooling, review expectations and curriculum. Will you have kids in
the same grade? Who will teach what subjects? How will you divide the work?
11 ©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
• Do you like actually driving the RV? Are you good with directions?
• H
ow much time can you take for the trip? Is it the same length of time for all
• Do you share similar budgetary concerns?
Clearly, joining forces requires careful consideration, but having the opportunity to
share the work—and the joy—is wonderful. The hardest part of our trip was not having
my husband with us to share what the kids learned and how each place brought us a
new experience. If you do find a friend, relative, or second family to travel with you,
it will be even more memorable, and I hope they will be good memories. (You don’t
want to test the maxim that after three days, house guests and fish stink.) With carefully
chosen company, an RV adventure opens the door to a world of growth—but it can also
confine a difficult relationship in a tiny space. Make sure you’ve thoroughly road-tested
your compatibility.
Friends and Family Along the Way
One of the best parts of our trip was meeting up with people as we traveled. Before
we left, someone asked me, “Why take an RV? Why don’t you just drive a car and stay
with people along the way?” For starters, I only knew people in Las Vegas, Denver, and
Bozeman, and we wanted to see more than that. Moreover, camping in the RV was
part of the whole experience. We’ve all taken road trips, but an RV offered a completely
different experience for all of us.
I mapped out our route, alerted my friends that we were coming, and then set up
rendezvous points with family and friends along the way. I was very deliberate about
deciding who would join us—and when. I discouraged visitors early in the trip so we
could establish our routine before throwing more people into the mix. That was a great
move on my part, as by the time we had company, the kids and I all knew what we
were doing. I was also careful
not to let a slew of back-toback visitors disrupt our
schoolwork routine.
I gave careful thought to
when I might most need adult
support and companionship.
It was a huge boost to have
not only my husband, but also
my sisters, some dear friends,
and both sets of grandparents
fly in to meet us at different
12 ©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
points along the way. These visits were so fun for all of us. The kids and I got to share
our life in the RV, and at the same time, our friends and family really saw what our
experience was about in a way no e-mail or photo could convey. These visitors gave
me a much-needed break from being the lone adult in charge of everyone, everything,
and every decision. I even got a chance to ride in the passenger seat! Sharing—or just
talking—with another adult was a great help emotionally, and it was a blast: We all saw
new places together and bonded over candlelit campground dinners and s’mores.
We were all very excited when a good friend and her three kids—the same ages as
my kids—met us in Memphis for a long weekend. She spoiled us rotten by treating us
to a very posh hotel. Our friends toured with us for a few days, which was a wonderful
infusion of energy and fun for all of us. There’s no question: No matter how long you
plan to be out, meeting with family and friends makes the journey all the sweeter.
And whether your RV is fancy or basic, it feels pleasantly decadent on a long trip to
rejuvenate every now and then with a night at a hotel—indulging in a relaxing, hot bath
and a comfortable bed.
Keep the Home Fires Burning
If, like me, you’re married but traveling on your own, it’s important to find ways to stay
connected with your partner or spouse, especially during a long absence. Mike and I
decided that it wasn’t just a great adventure for the kids, but also an opportunity for us
to create a different kind of connection with each other. We knew the kids and I would
miss him, and vice versa, and that was all part of the adventure.
To make things more interesting, my husband and I historically haven’t done well on
the phone when we’re apart. Either he’s busy when the kids and I call, or I’m busy when
he calls. The conversations are short
and unfulfilling, often frustrating,
and certainly not something that
makes us feel close and connected.
To combat our old pattern, we picked
a time to call every day so that we
would each be available, emotionally
and physically. With a designated
daily check-in, both my husband and
I were present, which made a world of
difference in maintaining our longdistance connection.
I’d almost always let the kids talk to
their dad first, letting them have the
13 ©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
joy of telling him about our day’s adventures. Once they all had a turn, I’d take the phone
and often walk a few laps around the campground to gain some peace and quiet. I
always had this vision of him standing in his office, looking at the U.S. map on the back
of his door, and tracing our route. We’d go over the day’s events, the plan for the
following day, and any changes in our schedule. He always knew where we were headed
(except for one disastrous day—more on that later) and our ETA for that night’s campsite. Beyond sharing our days, these nightly calls formed the core of our safety plan.
Mike also gave me great backup assistance from home. There
were times, for example, when I didn’t have a campsite reserved
and was just winging it. I’d call Mike and ask if he could find us a
campground. He’d Google the area, and sure enough, I’d get a call
back with our destination and a reservation.
tips & tricks
My husband always
knew where we were
headed and what our
ETA was for that night’s
campsite. Our nightly
calls formed the core
of our safety plan.
My husband was also an emotional rock for me. Out on
the road, traveling with kids, a lone adult can start to feel a bit
disconnected. His unfailing sense of humor and kindness kept me
grounded and connected to home while simultaneously giving
me the freedom to roam, like a kite on an endless string. The kids weren’t homesick,
and neither was I, but some days I did feel detached from my life at home. Having Mike
champion my dream—not just tolerate it—meant the world to me and to our marriage:
There’s no question our trip was a success because of the encouragement I received
from my husband.
Before I left, I got some telling comments from other women. One remark made
me sad: “Oh, my husband would never let me go. He said if I left, he’d change all the
locks.” I heard more than once, “What’s wrong, are you and Mike OK?” And the all-time
classic, “What’s Mike going to eat while you’re away?” Well, one thing was for sure, he
wasn’t going to miss my cooking that much—and he knows his way around Trader Joe’s
as well as I do!
Some men weren’t quite so sure what to think either. One said, “I give her two days
and she comes home.” When Mike heard this, he said, “You’re wrong—there is no doubt
she will do this.” Then he turned and walked away. On day two of our trip, when the
RV broke down, Mike ran into a friend of ours at the grocery store. After hearing about
the breakdown, he asked, “Is she coming home?” I loved Mike’s reply: “No, she’s not
coming home! She’s getting it fixed and going back on the road!”
It was so fun when Mike flew out to meet us. The kids would swarm around him,
fighting over who got to do what with Dad first. One time, we were in Arkansas and
Mike had just flown in for the weekend. We drove to a cabin on a lake that a friend had
offered to us. The kids and I explored the bed-rooms, all of us giddy to be sleeping in
14 ©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
real beds. One room had built-in twin bunks.
Sam, age five, walked right in and declared
with great certainty, “Well, I’m sleeping wit’
Dad,” pointing to the top bunk. My husband
and I smiled at each other, and I bent down
and whispered to Sam, “Honey, you’ll have
better luck if you pick a bigger bed.” Next thing
I knew she had found the room with the king
bed—and I was content to sleep alone. He and
I would have the next night together...and not
in the twin bunk!
While having Mike or other relatives come
visit was wonderful, saying good-bye again was
always difficult. With time and miles, though,
we would recover, happy to resume our life on
the open road.
What to Bring and How to Pack It
In this section I list all the different things you may need by category, then explain how
to fit it all into the RV. There is, of course, more room for more stuff in a bigger rig—but
the following offers basic organizational ideas that you can adapt to your own situation.
When and where you’ll be traveling largely determines the clothes you’ll take. We left
San Diego the first week of September and returned home after Thanksgiving, avoiding
any early winter snowstorms. We traveled light and kept possessions to a minimum:
Each child was allowed one pair of jeans, two pairs of shorts, five shirts, socks and under-
wear (seven each), one set of jammies, one extra pair of long pants (sweats or leggings),
a jacket, a bathing suit, and a hat. We each had a towel, minimal toiletries, a pair of
tennis shoes, flip-flops (a must for campground showers), and one extra pair of shoes.
The kids brought goggles for swimming.
How much clothing you bring doesn’t really change in relation to how long you’ll
be gone. When you have children, especially younger ones, you know how it goes: You
pack for a weekend just like you’d pack for a week. So whether your trip lasts a week, a
month, or three months, you’re likely to need about the same amount of clothing. We
were out long enough to experience significant changes in the weather, so we planned
for that. When my husband flew out to meet us, he brought winter clothes that we
swapped for our summery clothes—another pair of jeans, for example, to replace shorts.
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The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
The Digital Divide: Plugged In or Not?
It’s normal in many families for kids to play video games or watch TV when they’re
bored, and one can argue the pros and cons for turning to these options on a road trip.
Clearly, some screen time (as my family calls it) buys the driver a bit of much-needed
peace and quiet. But I noticed that without TV or video games (my kids didn’t have
phones then and hadn’t started texting), they found other things to do. We didn’t even
bring DS games or the like. Just imagine what it was like to no longer have any arguing
over whose turn it was or how long someone had already played. The kids’ behavior
improved too, and there was less fighting. We all enjoyed listening
tips & tricks
to lots of audio-books together. Each kid had his or her own iPod
headset for some musical downtime.
Put movies on
the map!
The absence of these digital distractions left room for
conversations to happen. We talked with each other, played games,
daydreamed—and yes, occasionally argued. Personally, I can’t
stand the constant noise a TV or handheld game makes. I loved
having my kids plugged into the trip and not into a show, a video
game, or their friends by phone. I know some families navigate
the digital divide by designating specific times when games and
TV are OK. These are clearly very personal choices, and I can only
speak to what worked for us.
The few times we did
watch a movie, it was
such a treat that the
novelty paid off in
spades. I specifically
chose movies that
coincided with our trip.
For example, we saw
Apollo 13 in Texas, and
while crossing South
Dakota, we watched
Dances with Wolves.
Since we took our trip, technology has leaped ahead. We only
had one iPod with us, which worked well, as my kids weren’t old
enough to want their own music. We each had our own playlist,
and we each had what became our “theme song” for the trip. We
played our theme songs, for example, as friends and family left us, to recapture our trip
energy. These days, each child might have his or her own iPod—in that case, parents
would have to discuss limits and sharing.
Personally, I’d still shy away from video games or other screen time. My experience
has been that unless each child has his or her own device, they fight about it constantly.
If each kid does have their own, though, they remain plugged into that world and miss
what’s going on around them. We took lots of books, travel and board games, craft kits
like knitting and friendship bracelets, and art supplies (pens, paper, crayons, paints,
glue, tape, and scissors). We had a portable DVD player (strategically stowed in a hardto-reach place) and one iPod. I kept it simple, and it worked.
School Supplies
Packing their homeschool materials was quite a task. Since I never intended to use the
RV’s shower, it was the perfect spot for our homeschool storage closet. Each child had
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The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
a clear plastic tub, stored in a stack, in which he or she put schoolwork. The downside
was if I needed the bottom tub, I had to move the others. A better solution would be to
get one of those units with clear plastic drawers from The Container Store (or any other
storage store). That way the kids can just pull out a drawer and get what they need.
Before I packed all the school materials, I spread everything out in my living room.
That way I had a clear picture of what I was taking, what I would leave behind, and
what my husband would trade out with us at a later date. I took a picture of what made
the final cut for later reference.
Tools and Equipment
One bin held all the basic junk-drawer staples including duct tape, masking tape,
transparent tape, scissors, safety pins, candles, matches, flashlights, batteries, a needle
and thread, a plastic tablecloth and weights to hold it down, and hanging lights (to
suspend on the RV for easy nighttime identification, or to hang around your campsite
or in the trees for additional light when you’re sitting under the stars). The toolbox held
screwdrivers, wrenches, extra fuses, jumper cables, an extension cord, work gloves,
bungee cords, plastic fasteners, a staple gun, a glue gun, small one-inch nails, tacks,
pliers, hammer, and twine or some kind of string (great for a laundry line). We also had
clothespins and a laundry bag.
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The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
We took camp chairs and a table, a plastic tarp, an extra camp pad, sleeping bags, and
pillows. The kids had comforters for the beginning of the trip, and sleeping bags for
when it got colder at night.
I took my laptop and charger, two cameras, and a Flip video camera. We had an iPod
loaded with a variety of playlists and books. I used an adapter that plugged into the RV’s
auxiliary port, so we could play our music through its speakers (check that your RV has
a port to plug into).
For the kitchen, I brought one stockpot, one saucepan, one frying pan, and an
electric griddle. I had a small toaster oven and a four-cup coffee pot. We used plastic
plates, paper plates, and plastic utensils, as well as a few really good knives, “real”
spoons (or serving utensils), and one real coffee mug. I brought a can opener, bottle
opener, corkscrew, spatula, lighter, and tongs. Paper towels and paper napkins were
always on hand, as well as boxes of tissue. How to Pack the RV
Before I began the actual task of fitting everything into the RV, I again laid it all out in
my living room. This is definitely not the time to overpack, so edit carefully. Take out
what you don’t absolutely need and set it aside. Then imagine there’s not enough room
for what’s left, and cull the pile again.
In the RV’s one closet, I put four labeled, clear drawers. Each kid had only one drawer
for clothes. (Since adults have bigger clothes, they may
need more space.) I put our youngest child’s drawer on the
bottom so she could reach it easily. Our jackets hung in the
shower, above the tubs of school supplies. Shoes also went
in the RV closet, along with a few hooks for a baseball hat
or sweater, and two sleeping bags.
In the bathroom, I hung a clear, over-the-door, plastic
shoe holder for soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, hairbrushes,
clips, and any other bathroom items. The bathroom
cupboard held a first aid kit, medications, extra toilet paper,
and my secret extra key stash.
I put all the pots and pans in the cupboard below the
kitchen sink, along with the electric griddle (great for
making grilled-cheese sandwiches or pancakes outside on
the picnic table). I kept a piece of no-slip rubber mat on the
sink counter so the coffee maker and toaster oven could
stay there while I was driving.
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The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
Magnetic hooks on the stovetop gave me a place to hang a hot
pad or dish towel. I stored produce in a three-tiered wire mesh fruit
basket hanging from a cupboard hook, leaving a bit more room
in the tiny fridge. (I had to secure the hanging basket with a small
wire twist tie so it wouldn’t bang around while we were moving.) I
used clear plastic tubs for food, labeled on the outside, and kept the
most-used items up front. We kept the snack tub handy so the kids
could grab a bite while I was driving.
The queen bunk over the cab of our Class C RV was the perfect
place to store all the bedding. Alongside the bed area upstairs,
four little book tubs held the kids’ reading and miscellaneous
school supplies. In an ideal world, each tub would hold one child’s
belongings, but the tubs quickly become a mosh pit of everyone’s
stuff. I also had little book lights for late-night reading.
Underneath the dining table, the benches doubled as storage
lockers big enough to fit all our sports equipment. We took tennis
gear, scooters, helmets, a soccer ball, a jump rope, and a football.
I also had room to fit a small, very basic printer (to print online
ticket confirmations), umbrellas, and a portable DVD player. All
A typical floor plan for a 24' RV
four bikes and Jackson’s fishing pole were tied to the back of the RV,
and his tackle box fit in the trunk.
In the RV’s central cupboards, I packed food on one
side, and toys, games, and art supplies on the other. The
kids had a clear plastic tub to put treasures and wallets
in. I attached a long, hanging magazine rack from Ikea
on a rear wall to keep schoolwork handy. It was really
important to make journals accessible, since the kids
were required to write in them every day. Of course, we
had to do periodic purges to organize our tiny space,
which served as bedroom, study, play area, and kitchen
for four people.
Anyplace I could hang a hook, I did—over the bathroom door, on the shower rod, on a wall. Hooks help
tremendously when kids are trying to put things away.
Food and Food Storage
I don’t enjoy cooking to begin with, so keeping things
simple on the road was essential. I looked through
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The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
cookbooks and sources like Real Simple magazine, which features
basic meals. I emailed my chef friends and asked for their favorite
quick menu ideas. I met a few RVers who kept a small crock pot in
their rig for non-travel days. Making a crock pot meal takes a little
planning ahead, but the payoff is unbeatable when a hot meal is
ready just when everyone’s hungry.
Our 22-foot RV had good fridge and freezer space and adequate
cupboards, so I was able to store food fairly efficiently. One cupboard
was strictly for plates, cups, utensils, and napkins. The other two,
along with clear, plastic storage tubs, held dry goods, cans, and jars.
My staples included canned soups, pasta, rice, olive oil, coffee,
vegetable oil, peanut butter, jelly, bread, cereal, trail mix, graham
crackers, and granola bars, and any fruits and veggies that kept well
for a few days, like apples, oranges, and carrots. The usual perishables
went in the fridge: eggs, milk, cheese, butter, sandwich meats, juice,
produce, and tortillas. During the day, I moved the bread into the
microwave to save room in the fridge. When I remembered, I’d
freeze half a loaf of bread to save room and to keep the rest fresh. The perfect place for fruit
and snacks! Be sure to anchor
it so contents don’t become
projectiles on the road.
Pancakes, cereal, oatmeal, toast, and eggs were our typical
breakfast options, with sandwiches and
tips & tricks
quesadillas the lunchtime favorites. Our food
Stay Cool
wasn’t fancy, and we all liked deli turkey, peanut butter and jelly,
It’s a good idea to
tuna, canned soups, milk, cheese and crackers, mac and cheese,
bring an extra cooler in
and hot dogs. I had easy-to-prep fruits and veggies on hand,
case your fridge goes
such as baby carrots, snap peas, grape tomatoes, broccoli, grapes,
out (mine did) or you
apples, and berries (if they weren’t too expensive). Pasta was a
end up at a campsite
quick and tasty dinner, and my kids loved it no matter how often
with no hookups. I
I made it. I’d throw in frozen peas or steamed broccoli, sprinkle
found that after just
a bit of Parmesan on top, and warm up a baguette or a loaf of
one night without a
French bread in the oven. The kids never got tired of s’mores—
hookup, our perishables
stock up on chocolate bars and graham crackers!
suffered. Keep a large,
refreezable ice pack in
the freezer and transfer
it to the cooler if you
lose power—you might
be able to save your
perishables until you
get power again.
20 It’s a good idea to cook large portions of dishes like lasagna and
freeze leftovers for another day. I’m rarely this clever myself, but
I can certainly appreciate the economy of effort. I mostly flew by
the seat of my pants, eating either what was in the fridge or what
we could get close by. There are more efficient ways to operate, but
that’s how I roll, at home and on the road.
We found easy and satisfying ways to eat healthily, even if we
©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
were short on time or advanced planning. The
one time I hit my food plan out of the ballpark
was at Thanksgiving. Three days earlier, we’d
stayed in a condo for two nights (thanks to my
parents). I took advantage of the larger kitchen
to precook the turkey and most of our side
dishes, and then stored them in the RV’s freezer.
It worked like a charm, and we had an easy
(for the cook), delicious, and gratitude-filled
Thanksgiving dinner.
More Cooking Tips
One thing you’ll learn about RVing is that the
vehicle needs to be fairly level in order for the
refrigerator to function. Some rigs seem to be
more sensitive to this issue than others. I found
the ground in most campgrounds pretty even, so
this wasn’t a big problem. Ask the rental agency
or seller how sensitive your RV is.
The truth is, cooking just about anything over an open fire (or an RV stove) is fun
and yields delicious results. You’ll feel wildly accomplished, especially when you see
what a great time your kids are having. Remember these tips and you won’t go wrong:
• Ask friends and family for favorite dishes that have five ingredients or less.
• Cook large portions and freeze half for another day.
• K
eep a ready supply of carrots, snap peas, grape tomatoes, and hummus for kids to
grab when hungry. Stock bananas, apples, pears, grapes, and berries.
• Dress up pasta with broccoli and frozen peas for an easy veggie addition.
• Keep
a jar of “Better Than Bouillon” in the fridge for an easy soup starter that uses up
far less room than boxes of stock.
• Avoid sandwich boredom by rotating in quesadillas.
Life on the Road
This section has tips and strategies to make your time on the road as successful and
satisfying as possible.
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The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
Places to Go,
People to See
Before we arrived at a national
park, historical landmark,
or point of interest, I would
double-check entry times and
fees, restrictions, RV parking
instructions, and other necessary
general information. Doing
this ahead of time allowed our
time at the stop to be relaxing,
interesting, and fun. Taking Pictures
You’ll want to document your adventure, and there are many ways to do so. Let the kids
take a major role in telling the story of your trip, and give them plenty of freedom in
how they do it. In other words, back off and let them surprise you! (I promise they will.)
Kids love to make movies, and the Flip video camera ( is fabulous,
inexpensive, and easy for everyone to use. The great thing about The Flip is that it plugs
right into the USB port on your laptop so you can download and e-mail your videos.
If you have a Macintosh, you also have iMovie, and with very little instruction, your
kids can turn the footage they shoot into a great little movie. Children can use an
inexpensive application called StopMotion ( to make a
Claymation video (a la Wallace & Gromit). You can create stop motion with more than
clay—Legos, rocks, and even oranges can come to life. With a laptop and a webcam,
your little darlings can create a masterpiece while you’re driving.
tips & tricks
Your trip to the Grand Canyon may be revealed in a whole new
light in a movie featuring a rock, three pinecones, and your
Some well-known sites
bathing suit top.
have podcasts on their
websites that you can
I also brought my big SLR camera (with a great zoom lens) and
download ahead of time
a compact digital camera with built-in video. The little camera
and listen to with your
was perfect to throw into my backpack, letting me catch all kinds
kids on the way to your
of great shots on the fly, and easy for the kids to use. My big
camera was awesome in the national parks. Give kids over age
four or five their own camera (if they don’t have a phone with a
camera on it) to experiment with. Bring extra cards for your camera if you don’t have
a laptop on which to download your photos. For fun, you can also purchase disposable
cameras. That way younger kids can take pictures as they see fit, and you don’t have to
be concerned about possible damage to your own coveted camera.
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The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
I bought a KOA membership
(, which gave
me a 10 percent discount at
each campground. KOAs are
family owned and typically
operated by a husband-andwife team. I found them to be
predictable, always equipped
with laundry facilities, a
playground, bike rentals, and
usually a pool (depending on
the time of year). We also
stayed at many national park
campgrounds and privately
owned campgrounds. You’ll notice quite a range of cleanliness. Listen to your gut feeling
about a campground’s safety, and if you’re at all doubtful, take a drive through before
making or confirming your reservation. One time, I walked into the camp office, made
a reservation (even though I had that creepy feeling), got to my campsite, and knew I
couldn’t stay. I went back to the office, asked for a refund, and left. You’ll know when it’s
not right. It could be the place, the other people there—or just something that feels
Camping itself was easy. The kids helped with the hookup, both electrical and water.
Most of the time we used the camp bathrooms to keep things as simple as possible for
me. Hooking up the sewer hose was easy, but the less I had to do, the better. Overall I
found the camp managers not only a great resource but also more than happy to help
with anything. Washing machines were always available for use—and doing the laundry
became a good job for the kids while I got dinner under way.
Campground stores stock the basics and have just about any kind of small emergency
items you may need, including some RV parts and accessories, as well as compact food
Most campgrounds suggest that you make reservations, but if you’re traveling during
the off-season, many times you can research a campground online that day, and then
arrive later that afternoon without a problem. Sometimes we arrived in town, saw a sign
on the road, and just pulled into the site. Visitor centers are another great campground
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The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
tips & tricks
Women Traveling
Don’t override your
gut instincts or let
embarrassment or
inconvenience keep
you from changing
your mind and leaving.
There was only once,
when I had no other
camping options,
that I stayed in a
campground that felt
uncomfortable. I kept
the kids with me the
whole time we were
there, slept badly, and
left very early the next
Living in a Fishbowl
There’s no getting around the fact that traveling in an RV is like
living on a sailboat. You and yours are stuck in a tiny space,
with very little privacy or ability to get away from each other.
Chatterboxes and quiet thinkers, early birds and night owls,
whistlers and bubble gum blowers—our differences can cause
crankiness and frustration to quickly build up and boil over,
especially when you can’t close a door to get away.
When the kids were starting to get on each other’s nerves (or on
mine), I’d find a place to stop so they could get out, run around,
and blow off some steam. There’s nothing like a roaring river or
towering sand dune (or gift shop—my older daughter’s holy grail)
to bring people back—adults included. A little exercise goes a
long way toward shaking off irritability. And if I needed to keep
driving, listening to one of our stories (available at your library or offered a peaceful mental break for everyone.
As you might expect, there were times when frustration and
fatigue got to me. Ironically, Walmart became a refuge where I
could create alone time. The kids took one walkie-talkie and I took
the other. Off we’d go in opposite directions. I’d check in on them:
“Kids, I’m on aisle 22, food, where are you? Over.” “Mom, we are in the toy section,
meet you in five minutes, aisle 25. Over.” They loved the freedom, and I savored the
break. Walmart was so satisfying for all of us that it became our inside joke. We’d drive
by a store and the kids would all shout excitedly, “Look, Mom! Walmart!”
If you choose to homeschool along the way, schoolwork will be a big part of the trip, as
it was on ours. I was lucky to have a good friend who was a homeschool coordinator
and gave me great leads and tips. Even so, finding the right program was a giant task:
There are many, many homeschool programs, and it’s crucial to choose one that fits
your style and your kids’ needs. One place to start looking is
Many schools affiliated with homeschool programs require in-person weekly check-ins,
so make sure the program you want accepts online or phone meetings.
Ask your school district’s main office if the school has what’s commonly known as an
alternative education program. These can be designed as traditional and homeschool
hybrids, offering classroom assistance at the school as well as support for telecommuting students. When you’re doing your research, make sure that the programs you’re
interested in are accredited either nationally or by your state. Follow up by phone to
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The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
verify their credentials and requirements.
Many online resources are not what they
appear to be, and you can easily find
yourself enrolled in a bogus program.
If you’re traveling for a relatively short
time during the school year, set up a
contract with your child’s school. Contracts
are structured so that your children
complete work in tandem with their class’s
curriculum. They can incorporate some of
that work with their homeschooling and
easily transition back into regular class on
their return.
Hooking Up: The Ins (and Outs) of Power,
Water, and Sewer Lines
Hooking up the RV was a piece of cake. In fact, it was one of my kids chosen jobs. The
electrical hookup is very straightforward. Our rig had a 30-amp hookup. Some of the
bigger rigs use 50 amps. (Check your vehicle’s guide before plugging in your RV.) Your
rig will also have hookups for two water tanks: One is for storing
tips & tricks
water, and the other is to use while the RV is hooked up at a
campground. For example, I would hook up the white freshwater
Hooking up your RV is
hose and turn on the valve at the source, and then I could use
not nearly as difficult as
you might think—and
the RV’s sink. This allows you to use water inside the RV without
it’s only a little gross.
filling and hauling a container of water. It’s a good idea to have
some bottled water on board in case you’re in an area with no
Emptying the septic tank isn’t necessarily one of life’s Dirty Jobs. The RV septic
hose (if you don’t have one, you can pick one up at an RV supply store) attaches to the
holding tank at one end and drops into the campground’s dumping valve at the other. I
brought a box of plastic gloves for my own peace of mind, but emptying the tank isn’t so
bad. You’ll want to flush the black water (toilet) first, then rinse with gray water (from
the sink or dishwater). I stowed the sewer hose in a plastic garbage bag in my trunk.
For those of you towing a trailer, I can only offer links since that was not my
experience. Check out and I didn’t carry
a leveling kit, but you certainly could. Find more information at
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The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
Mileage and Driving
The hours you spend behind the
wheel will vary. Some days will be
long driving days, and others will be
short. Try to keep long days between
six to eight hours (or less). As the
only driver, I tried to follow a long
day with a short one, if back-to-back
driving days were necessary. Factor
in time for stops along the way. For
a five-hour driving day, I would
budget seven hours, allowing for
stops, visiting points of interest, and
gas breaks. You may end up with long driving days back-to-back sometimes, but avoid
it as much as possible—everyone gets twitchy when they’ve been sitting too long.
At the beginning of our trip, I scheduled quite a few one-night stays. I soon learned
that it’s really tough to move that fast in an RV with kids. You’ll discover that once
you get to a certain destination, you and the kids will want more time there than you
scheduled, or less. I’d suggest a minimum of two to three nights per destination spot.
Being flexible and tinkering with “the plan” is part of the joy of RVing. Relax and go
with it.
Estimating Time and Distance
When I was planning our route, I carefully plotted all our sites on a map. Then I went
to Google Maps and wrote down the number of miles between each stop. From there,
I estimated our driving time between these stops, giving me an idea of not only how
many nights we should plan on staying in each location, but how I should structure my
driving days. I also took into consideration the kind of roads we’d be driving on. For
example, 60 miles on the map doesn’t necessarily equal one hour of RV driving time.
Going up mountain passes, I’d average 35 to 40 miles per hour. On the downhills and
flats, I’d go 65 to 70, tops. Bad weather and high winds will slow you down—remember,
it’s all part of the adventure!
Again, I tried to budget two to four nights per location, depending on what there
was to do or see. I cushioned our schedule with built-in flexibility so we could adapt to
whatever situation came up. Most of the time my “time budget” worked, except when
we broke down in Denver and stayed six nights instead of three. The kids and I were sad
to have to drive right through Steamboat Springs, Colorado, rather than camp for the
two nights we’d planned.
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The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
When in Doubt, Do Less
My family was on the road for quite a long time. No matter how long your trip will be,
I suggest that you map out the sites you’d like to see, calculate the distance between
those points, and, given how much overall time you have, figure out how fast you have
to move from one place to the next. If I had only one week, I’d schedule no more than
three major points of interest. It’s up to you how many miles you plan to drive in total,
but if you’re out with kids (especially if they are on the younger side), I wouldn’t push
too hard. Whenever possible, space it out. Overplanning has an enormous potential to
Insider Tips
I picked up many little tricks and tips not only from direct experience, but also from the
very friendly and helpful RVers I talked to. My trial camping runs and Internet research
were also very helpful. The most useful information came from actually being on the road.
• In
the campground, sprinkle Ajax around your tires to keep the ants away. Avoid
parking where your RV or trailer touches a tree or branches. The ants will come
down and find their way into your rig.
• B
ring a small duffle bag. This is very helpful for those nights you stay in a hotel and
would rather not pack your things in a grocery bag.
• Carry spare fuses.
• P
ut a hide-a-key on your rig. I did not hide the ignition key. If we were locked out, it
was not the ignition key I needed—it was our door key, which was different from our
ignition key. I had an extra full set hidden in the bathroom cupboard.
The best tip was to be prepared and be flexible. Always plan for the unexpected and
allow extra time in new places to either get lost—or just go slower.
How to stay safe is an important element to plan for on an RV trip, especially if you are
a woman traveling alone with young children. Men simply don’t face the same risks that
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women do. Consider likely scenarios, and formulate a plan that will keep you safe. My
brother-in-law, who has served for years on snow search-and-rescue teams, is fond of
saying “people respond at the level of their training,” so practice your emergency plans
with the kids, and do it more than once. Consider taking a self-defense class yourself, or
take one with the kids to build knowledge, confidence, and strategic thinking. Ask your
local Y for information on classes or go online to sites such as
Before leaving, Mike and I talked with the kids and rehearsed what kind of code we
would use if I needed to alert them to danger. We discussed two possible scenarios.
There’s the “Run and get help, I’m hurt!” situation, and there’s the “This is a bad guy, act
cool, but we need to get away from here now” situation. The first
tips & tricks
one was straightforward. We talked about trying to remain calm,
Armed and
I wrote down emergency instructions, and we practiced what role
each child would need to take. The second dangerous situation
required more creativity and subtlety—not easy for a child. Since
I know some people
we were traveling without Mike, “Dad” became our code word.
carry firearms—I do
not. With children in the
For example, if either the kids or I had sensed that a person near
RV, it was a huge risk
us was not safe or trustworthy, one of us would say, “I’m going to
I wasn’t willing to take.
see if Dad needs any help at the RV” or “Kids, can you ask Dad
to buy some milk at the store for me?” Any time we used “Dad”
in a sentence (outside normal conversation), that would be our signal to calmly leave.
Kids are very acute at picking up bad vibes. They can sense right away when there’s
something wrong with a person or situation.
Lions and Tigers
and Bears, Oh My!
Certain wild animals
pose risks, and bears
are common in many
mountain areas. Check
with your park ranger on
food storage requirements
or suggestions in
campgrounds known
to have bear activity.
Depending on the level and
intensity of bear activity,
Just your average, run of the mill, Yellowstone visitors.
in some parks you may
be required to keep your food in a bear box (provided at your campsite in most cases).
You may also be traveling through the habitats of mountain lions, wild bison, or even
wolves. Get more information from the rangers.
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The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
Pepper Spray Cautions
If you’re thinking of carrying mace—aka pepper spray—be aware that it’s illegal in
many states. Where it is legal, you may be required to receive training and certification.
You can purchase bear mace (very different than human mace) at stores such as REI.
Do the research to understand the dangers, particularly to your children, who risk
accidentally getting pepper spray in their sensitive eyes. The best solution, of course,
is to be very cautious in animals’ natural habitats. Avoid confronting bears and any
wild animals, even those that seem comfortable hanging out near human beings. Use
your common sense—in other words, don’t be like the guy we saw in Yellowstone who
stopped his car and leaned out to try to touch the fluffy buffalo (weighs two tons and
charges at up to 35 miles per hour—read the signs!).
I carried a fully stocked toolkit and supplies for all minor repairs. These items
included, but were not limited to, duct tape, fuses, nails, screws, screwdrivers, hammers,
pliers, safety pins, scissors, flashlight, batteries, gloves, bungee cords, matches, and
jumper cables.
My first aid kit was fairly simple and included bug spray, basic medicines, bandages,
a thermometer, antiseptic, Neosporin, and tweezers. Check online at the Red Cross and
other sites such as for more suggestions and guidelines.
Can You Hear Me Now? Staying in Touch
I brought two cell phones: my own, and a backup phone with a different number and
a different carrier, should I reach an area with limited coverage. My hope was if one
carrier didn’t work, the other one might. I also wanted to have an extra phone on hand
in case the kids and I got separated and they needed to reach me.
Staying on the route you’ve mapped out is very important, since you will have told
someone where you’ll be going, and they’ll know where to look if something happens.
Every night at 6 p.m. PST, we made our routine check-in call with my husband. It was
not only the kids’ daily talk with Dad and an opportunity to fill him in on our day, but
also our safety call. Mike and I would review our plans for the following day, where I
planned on going, the roads we’d be taking, and our estimated time of arrival. He’d track
us on his map and follow our path, especially if it was a driving day. It was simple: If we
didn’t call, he’d know something was wrong.
This plan was most important on travel days, since not only is that the most likely
time for the RV to break down, but that’s when spotty cell reception can be problematic.
Since texts often go through even when calls don’t, texting is a good backup—at least
you can alert your partner that you won’t be able to call. If you’re in an area with zero
cell-phone coverage, find a pay phone. If you’re a single parent, designate a friend,
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The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
grandparent, or other relative to be your call-in contact. You absolutely want someone
to know where you are every day.
The single scariest day of our trip was the day I went off route (taking a suggested
short cut), lost cell coverage, lost GPS coverage, and almost ran out of gas. No one knew
where I was, I couldn’t tell how far I had to go, and we were close to three hours late
making our nightly call. I was terrified and so was my husband. Always alert someone
when you make a route change and make a call before you lose coverage.
Writing a trip blog is a great way of keeping friends and
family informed on a daily basis. It serves as a wonderful
journal to keep your trip memories alive. We opened
a blog account through Gmail (,
but there are many free options in the blogosphere.
You can restrict who can read your blog by making it
public or private, a particular concern for parents who
don’t want photos of their children available on the
Internet. If yours is a private blog, your followers will
need login and password information. The kids enjoyed
blogging, and our followers loved reading about the
trip experience from their perspective. Posting pictures
really brings the trip home.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road—
How Much Does It Cost?
Cost is a key issue, and one that depends on so many
different factors. Renting an RV is not an inexpensive way to vacation. When I was
doing my initial research, I called almost a dozen companies to get a realistic price
range. Sites I looked at included, and Campgrounds run about $20 to $90 a night, depending on
whether they are privately owned, a chain (KOA, for example), or part of a state or
national park. Fees also depend on the campground’s facilities: Are there water, electric,
and sewer hookups at each site? If you only need water and electric, that can be cheaper
than all three. At one campground, the owner charged $30 for full hookup, and $10 for
the site alone. I made a “cash deal” and gave him $20 for a site with just electricity. Also,
the bigger the RV, the more you’ll pay, since your site and amp use will both be bigger.
Some campgrounds charge more for premium spots; ask when you check in. Our
average monthly cost for accommodations was about $850, which included a few nights
in hotels.
30 ©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
Fuel: We traveled when gas prices hovered around $3 a gallon. With the RV averaging
eight to ten miles per gallon, gas was absolutely my biggest cost.
The RV: We bought our rig knowing that we would use it after the trip and sell it
eventually, recouping some of our investment from reselling. An RV costs anywhere
from $8,000 on the low end to $100,000 and above.
Food: Your food budget, both groceries and eating out, is a big component of the
overall budget. Either you’re buying food at home or you’re buying it on the road,
depending on your preference and budget. We did both, but after reviewing our trip
costs, our food budget really wasn’t much different than if we had been at home. Our
dining-out line item increased since my husband doesn’t like to cook and chose to eat
out more often while we were gone. I found that we spent almost the same on actual
groceries on the road as we did at home.
Admission Fees: Every parent is familiar with the “kid costs” associated with dance
class, soccer, baseball, field trips, music lessons, art classes, and so on. I looked at kid
costs as a trip trade; I wasn’t spending money on soccer or music or baseball, but I
was on museums and sightseeing tours and
trip activities. The tours we took were amazing
learning experiences, and made our adventure
that much richer for us all.
Daddy: Part of our trip budget included the cost
to fly Mike out to meet us on the road. He came
three times, to Denver, Chicago, and Arkansas,
and each time it was priceless. Check out flights
and itineraries ahead of time.
Raising Money, Saving Money: Before
leaving home, the kids and I did a variety of fundraising activities. We always took in our recycling
for cash; we kept a jar on the kitchen counter
where we put any and all spare change; we held
bake sales. We were also very lucky to have good
friends who give us gas cards as going-away gifts.
I’m not saying the trip was a break-even—clearly
there were added expenses, primarily the rig itself
and gas. But in the long run, it was still a great
way to travel as a family.
Spending Money: Mike and I devised a
strategy for the kids’ spending money. The night
31 ©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
before the trip, we took them to
our neighborhood lake for an RV
picnic dinner. There, we presented
each child with a hundred-dollar
bill. We thought if the kids had
their own money to spend, they’d
be more careful about where and
how they spent it. We also gave
them their spending money in
that form because we thought they
would not break it lightly—after
all, how many kids get to have a
hundred-dollar bill? I did not want
to feel nickeled and dimed to death
by all the normal kid requests
for junk on the trip. This strategy
worked; those hundred-dollar bills
really helped them think about
what they wanted to spend their money on. The girls used theirs at the American Girl
store in Chicago. Jackson picked out various Western and outdoor items.
32 ©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
Timeline: How and When to Get Ready
Here’s a suggested timeline of how (and when) to prepare and plan for your trip. When
I decided to take the leap, it was mid-April. I planned to leave in September, giving me
just four months to pack, prepare, and ready the troops. I enjoy planning by nature so
four months time was sufficient to organize our trip. However, it’s probably wise to give
yourself six months to best plan and prepare, especially for a longer trips.
Six Months Out
• Get a rough idea of what your route will be.
• Start researching vehicle options. Decide if you’re going to be a renter or a buyer. Visit
online RV sites and start talking to people who drive the rig you’re interested in.
• If you’re a buyer, start looking for your RV.
• Make your national park reservations as soon as possible, especially if your trip will
take place in the summer.
• Confirm all your other known campground reservations, if you’re certain you’ll keep
the scheduled dates. Ask about cancellation policies. If you cancel within 24 hours of
your reservation, most places will only give you a partial refund, if any.
• If you’re homeschooling, research credentialed programs and register your children.
• Begin researching tourist spots and stops.
• Sign up for safety classes at places such as, your local YMCA, etc.).
• Locate and sign up for RV-driving classes.
Four Months Out
• Continue researching places to see and things to do. I recommend the books National
Parks with Kids and Things to See and Do with Your Kids 12 and Under.
• Contact friends and family along your route to make sure staying with them is an
option (and to ask how long you can stay).
• Make reservations for desired attractions that may be very popular. For example, we
booked a reservation at the Denver Mint way in advance. I also bought tickets to see
Wicked and Tina Turner in concert along the way.
• Make any necessary dental and/or doctor’s appointments for you and your children.
• If you’ll be renting your RV, start investigating companies, prices, and vehicles prior to making your reservation.
33 ©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
Two Months Out
• Complete making any reservations at museums, special events, or other local
• Begin to collect items for school curriculum; get your kids’ essential academic
materials in order.
• Start thinking about how you’re going to organize your RV. For example, I knew we
were not going to use our shower for showering. I bought large, clear plastic storage
tubs and made the shower our school closet.
• Go for a test trip and try out your rig if you have it already.
One Month Out
• Finalize all reservations and confirmations and put them in your trip binder.
• Confirm your roadside assistance program and double-check insurance coverage.
• Review your final packing list and purchase, borrow or create in any missing items.
• Pay off the major credit card you’ll be taking (or pay it significantly down)
• Discuss and begin implementing your safety plan.
One Week Out
• Lay out all items to pack (I used my living room floor).
• Make final arrangements to pick up your rental RV. If you’ve purchased one, begin the
packing process.
• Begin the process of actually loading the RV with all your dry goods, nonperishables,
bedding, clothing, tools, school supplies, art and game supplies, first aid kit, repair kit,
and so on.
• In a separate binder, put your RV insurance and AAA coverage, copies of passports
(for any ID requirements for the kids), and any other important paperwork and
documentation. Kids’ medical and shot records are good to have in case of an
emergency. You might also carry a copy of your contacts, if you don’t have a list in
your phone, and some stamps for mailing cards home.
• Have your vehicle tuned up (if you own it) and thoroughly checked over.
34 ©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
Two Days Out
• Finish packing.
• Gas up the RV.
• Grocery shop for your first week out on the road.
• Plug in the RV so the fridge gets cold, in preparation for loading food.
• Double-check your packing list.
• Take your spouse or partner out (or in) for a hot date.
One Day Out
• Find a safe, convenient place near the driver’s seat to keep your trip binder, stamps,
self-addressed envelopes, your laptop, and all must-have documents.
• Get some exercise—but don’t overdue it.
• Make sure you’re hydrated and go to bed early!
35 ©2011 The RoadScholarz
The RoadScholarz RV Guide: How to Plan an Amazing, Kid-Friendly RV Adventure
An incredible road trip leaves lasting memories
long after the adventure ends. I hope this eBook
has provided valuable, useful and practical
information for your own adventure.
Before our trip, I would have never considered
myself an RVer. Now, I can’t bring myself to sell
the thing, which sits parked in front of our house.
It’s constant reminder of our wonderful adventure,
always ready for the next one—which happens
more often than I ever would have thought!
Thanks again for visiting us at I wish you joy on the
journey. Send an email and tell me all about it, or post your comments in our forum.
Happy trails!
The RoadScholarz
[email protected]
36 ©2011 The RoadScholarz